Who is Indian?

By Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, researcher, professor of anthropology of the Museu Nacional (UFRJ) and founding partner of ISA.

  • An Indian is any member of an indigenous community, recognized by the latter as such.
  • An indigenous community is any community founded on kinship or coresidence relations between its members, who maintain historical-cultural ties with pre-Colombian indigenous social organizations.

The kinship or coresidence relations constituting the community include relations of affinity, adoptive affiliation, and ritual or religious kinship and are more generally defined in terms of the conception of fundamental interpersonal bonds held by the community in question.

The historical-cultural ties with pre-Colombian indigenous social organizations include historical, cultural and sociopolitical dimensions, namely:

  • The continuity of the community’s present territorial localization in relation to the situation during the pre-Colombian period. This continuity includes, in particular, the derivation of the present situation from the decisions or contingencies imposed by colonial or national powers in the past, such as forced migrations, slave raids, reductions, mission villages and other measures taken to assimilate and occlude ethnic groups;
  • The positive and active orientation of the group in relation to community discourses and practices derived from the Amerindian cultural background and conceived to be an important heritage of the group. Given the processes of cultural destruction, reduction and occlusion associated with the situation evoked in the previous item, these discourses and practices are not necessarily those specific to the cultural area (in the historico-ethnological sense) where the community is located today;
  • The community’s decision, whether manifested or simply presumed, to constitute itself as a socially differentiated entity within the national union, with autonomy to determine and deliberate on its composition (modes of recruitment and criteria of inclusion of its members) and internal affairs (community governance, forms of territorial occupation, system of trade and exchange with the surrounding society), as well as defining its own modalities of symbolic and material reproduction.


[May, 2005]